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Campus life holds diversity retreat

In professional development trip, staff members discuss power, privilege, oppression

The Office of Campus Life and Student Services arranged a day-long retreat for its staff Jan. 19, holding workshops to create an open atmosphere for discussing matters related to diversity and inclusion.

The retreat, which was open to all staff members from campus life, bore the title of “Social Justice Retreat: An Engaging and Open Space for Discussing Power, Privilege and Oppression.”

Mary Grace Almandrez — interim assistant vice president for campus life and student services, associate dean of the College and one of the retreat’s co-chairs  — said the organizers only expected about 100 staff members to attend. The event’s actual attendance exceeded 150, and both the morning and afternoon workshops were packed with staff members, she said.

The idea for the retreat arose a couple years ago and has three main purposes, Almandrez said. Administrators hoped to share with each other the vast amount of collective knowledge and experience within Campus Life, provide a time and space for professional development and demonstrate their commitment to social justice, she added.

Almandrez formed the committee to plan the retreat this past summer. The committee was composed of a wide variety of staff members across all departments of campus life and student services, including representatives from Counseling and Psychological Services, the athletics department and the Student Activities Office.

The day opened with a plenary session hosted by Almandrez and Tim Shiner, director of the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center and Student Activities. Staff members had the opportunity to attend 13 other workshops and two exhibits throughout the remainder of the day, covering a diverse range of issues. Popular workshops included “Islamophobia,” “What is Race?,” “Racial Battle Fatigue,” “Privilege in Athletics” and “On Being ‘Black’: The Racialized Experience of International Students,” Almandrez said.

Associate University Chaplain Adrian Wood-Smith hosted the Islamophobia workshop, a presentation on “Islam, traditional Islam and what that tends to mean to the majority of Muslims,” Wood-Smith said. Throughout the presentation, he gave “a sense of the struggles that Muslim students and all Muslims are going through right now” and offered advice to attendees about how they could support those students and all Muslim Americans, Wood-Smith added.

Shontay Delalue, assistant dean and director of international student and visitor experiences, hosted the workshop “On Being ‘Black,’” which drew from her research on the lives of international students in the United States and at Brown. Delalue felt strongly about her workshop, as it gave “voice to the international students who are largely underrepresented and (opened) up an important dialogue about what it means to be Black across the African Atlantic Diaspora,” she wrote in an email to The Herald.

Delalue’s favorite workshop was “Privilege and Athletic Recruiting.” The talk explored how race, class and economic status shape athlete recruitment. “It was valuable information not only as an administrator but also as a parent,” she wrote.

Almandrez deemed the retreat a strong success and said she hopes it will become an annual opportunity for all staff members in Campus Life and Student Services. The retreat was “an opportunity for our staff to talk openly and honestly and struggle together,” Almandrez said. She said ideally staff members will now be able to “serve our students in a more holistic and compassionate way.”

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